Can testosterone modulate prosocial learning in healthy males? A double-blind, placebo-controlled, testosterone administration study

Biol Psychol. 2023 Mar;178:108524. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsycho.2023.108524. Epub 2023 Feb 16.


Testosterone is associated with both aggressive and prosocial behavior, which depend on the social context and the trade-off between self- and other-interest. However, little is known about the effects of testosterone on prosocial behavior in a context without such trade-offs. The present study aimed to investigate the effects of exogenous testosterone on prosocial behavior by using a prosocial learning task. Healthy male participants (n =120) received a single dose of testosterone gel in a double-blind, placebo-controlled, between-participants experiment. Participants performed a prosocial learning task in which they were asked to learn to gain rewards for three different recipients, i.e., self, other and computer, by choosing symbols associated with potential rewards. The results showed that testosterone administration increased the learning rates across all the recipient conditions (dother = 1.57; dself = 0.50; dcomputer = 0.99). More importantly, participants in the testosterone group had a higher prosocial learning rate than those in the placebo group (d = 1.57). These findings suggest that testosterone generally enhances reward sensitivity and prosocial learning. The present study corroborates the social status hypothesis, according to which testosterone promotes status-seeking prosocial behavior when it is appropriate to the social context.

Keywords: prosocial; reinforcement learning; social status; testosterone.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aggression*
  • Altruism
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Reward
  • Testosterone* / pharmacology


  • Testosterone